The new Nectar Elements plug-in, also included in the full iZotope Nectar 2 vocal processing package and the company’s Elements Suite, uses artificial intelligence to help you craft a polished vocal sound. Operation is simplicity itself, but what goes on behind the scenes is actually very sophisticated: the plug-in includes a Vocal Assistant that ‘listens’ to a section of your vocal track, then sets up the different processing sections for you based on what it hears. Any problem resonances are identified and pulled back while the overall tonality is adjusted to optimise brightness and clarity.
Of course a ballad vocal won’t need the same treatment as a rock vocal, so before you start, you get to select from Vintage, Modern or Dialogue options and three levels of intensity labelled Light, Moderate or Aggressive. Just press Go, play your vocal track and sit back and watch as Nectar Elements ticks off a check list before applying suitable settings. Based on what it has learned from your section of vocal, it works out the best register for pitch correction, identifies problem areas in need of subtractive EQ, detects and fixes sibilance, then applies dynamic control, finally tweaking the overall tonality and adding a subtle reverb. (If the chorus vocals are very different from the verse, then it might be worth treating the two sections separately.)
Once this process is complete, you see a page that shows a dynamic spectrum display at the top with level metering at the right. Six faders control the Pitch correction strength, Clarity (subtractive EQ), De-essing, Dynamics (compression), Tone and Space (reverb). These are all set up as Nectar Elements feels appropriate but if you disagree, you can adjust the faders however you like. Using conventional plug-ins (or indeed the full-fat Nectar 2), you’d have numerous parameters to adjust for each stage, but here you just get one refreshingly simple ‘amount’ fader for each section.
It is probably fair to say that if you have a specific sound in mind and are experienced in handling separate plug-ins, you can probably get closer to it manually than by letting Nectar Elements do all the work for you, but having said that, Nectar Elements generally makes musically appropriate decisions and helps them sit more solidly in a mix. It manages to add a gentle sense of airiness, focus and consistency to vocals without making them sound harsh and the de-esser makes a noticeable improvement to sibilant material. Should you wish to add delays or a different type of reverb to get the sound you are after, you can always follow Nectar Elements with the plug-ins you already have. If you need results quickly and don’t feel confident in doing all the detailed work yourself, Nectar Elements will certainly help you get the job done.